Bed bugs are one of the most prevalent pests in the world. Bed bug cases have been reported in virtually every region on earth, including all 50 U.S. states. Although their numbers fell into decline during the mid-20th century, a resurgence of bed bug infestations began in the 1980s and has largely continued to this day. Some experts believe the resurgence is largely due to a worldwide spike in overseas travel, while others theorize that the animals have become resistant to the pesticides once used to control them. And because bed bugs are both adaptable to new surroundings and difficult to properly exterminate, they spread quickly and easily from place to place. This comprehensive guide will cover the fundamental areas of bed bug prevention and control. Topics of discussion include:
The biological and behavioral traits of bed bugs
Ways to identify the presence of adult bed bugs, eggs and bed bug habitats
Effective methods to keep bed bugs from entering your home and/or property
Preventative measures you can take to ensure bed bugs don’t follow you home after a trip
DIY techniques for bed bug extermination
Common insecticides used to control bed bug populations
Online guides, registries and other bed-bug-related resources
First let’s look at some key statistics for bed bug infestation:
- A female bed bug may lay up to five eggs per day, and as many as 200 eggs during her lifetime (which may be one year or more).
- Bed bugs can survive in temperatures ranging from freezing to as high as 116 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Bed bugs can consume as much as seven times their own bodyweight in human blood during one feeding session.
- Although they usually remain near sleeping human hosts, adult bed bugs will travel up to 100 feet in search of food.
- A recent survey polled Americans in different parts of the country about bed bug encounters. The South led all regions, with 34% of respondents reporting an encounter with bed bugs. The Northeast placed second with 26%, followed by the Midwest with 22% and the West with 18%.
- According to the 2014 ‘Bed Bugs Cities List’ by Orkin Pest Control, the leading U.S. city for bed bug treatments is Chicago, Ill. Other cities with high treatment numbers include: Detroit, Mich.; Columbus, Ohio; Los Angeles, Calif.; Cleveland-Akron-Canton, Ohio; Dallas-Fort Worth, Texas; Cincinnati, Ohio; and Denver, Colo.
Read on to learn about the bed bug’s appearance, life cycle and other important characteristics.
What Are Bed Bugs?
The bed bug, or Cimex lectularius, is a parasitic insect that belongs to the cimicid family. Bed bugs are barely visible to the naked eye; most measure no more than 6 mm in length. Key identifiers include:
- A mottled, red-brown color
- Flat, ovoid shape
- Relatively small wings compared to body size
Human blood is the bed bug’s sole food source, and they primarily seek out human hosts through two attractants: body heat and the carbon dioxide of our breath. Although pets and other animals may carry bed bugs, they will only bite humans. Bed bugs are nocturnal eaters, and will rarely bite humans during the day. Each bite will produce a small red lump, along with a severe itch that may linger for several days. However, numerous studies have concluded that bed bugs do not transmit any blood-borne pathogens between human hosts.
The life cycle of a bed bug consists of seven stages, beginning with the egg. Most bed bug eggs hatch after seven to 10 days. The next five life stages, known as instars, involve gradual growth to adult size. In order to progress to each instar, the immature bed bug must feed on human blood and shed its skin, or ‘molt’. Bed bugs reach adulthood after the fifth instar is completed. From the time eggs are laid, the average bed bug will reach full maturity after 37 days. Bed bugs usually feed once or twice a week. However, they can live for up to three months at room temperature without feeding on a human host, and studies have found they survive for even longer in colder environments.
Now that we’ve identified what bed bugs look like and how they behave, let’s tackle effective bed bug prevention.